BLOUNT COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — “I felt like I was nothing,” Keela Calloway’s son told her after an incident Tuesday at Hayden High School.
Calloway’s son, a ninth grader at the school, said he was singled out during an exercise in his third-period English class. His mother tells CBS 42 that the students in her son’s class were reading the book “To Kill a Mockingbird” when the teacher reportedly read out a racial slur and encouraged students to say the word out loud, saying that the slur was “just a word.” According to the student, the teacher said the class would read the book “the way it’s supposed to be read.”
The kids were then asked to “partner up with someone of the same skin color.” Calloway’s son, the only Black student in the classroom, stood alone until two of his white friends decided to stand with him. Calloway said her son told her that in that moment, all eyes were on him and that he “wanted to run away and cry.” Calloway’s son said that the teacher also played blackface videos during class to accompany the lesson.
Calloway said that she had no idea what happened until she was contacted by other parents of students in her son’s class, asking if he was okay. Her son was afraid that he would get in trouble at school if he told her what happened.
Calloway said that the assistant principal and counselor at the school told her that the teacher “didn’t see color” and that they didn’t think that her son being singled out was intentional, just an exercise used by the teacher to show that the students were different. Calloway said school officials did not disagree with the teacher’s use of the racial slur, saying that the word is a part of Southern literature.
An emotional Calloway described the pain of not being able to protect her children from the very people that are supposed to keep them safe while they’re away from her.
“I have taught my children that they could get called nasty names by other kids, because kids are cruel, kids are mean, they probably will call you the ‘N’ word, and as bad as it hurts you have to be the bigger person and go tell a teacher or another adult.” Calloway said. “I never thought in a million years that I would have to prepare them for a teacher, an educator, someone they look up to and see as a safe haven away from me to do this to them.”
After visiting the Blount County Board of Education, Calloway said she was asked to take down a Facebook post she made attempting to shed light on the situation. She refused.
“I want to raise awareness because I just don’t want another child to ever feel how mine felt Tuesday,” Calloway said.
CBS 42 reached out to the school district and the school’s principal for comment and has not heard back.